Thrifty customers and eco-friendly design

This garden in northern Virginia, designed and installed by J. Mark White, features a recycled gravel path that leads up to and surrounds a water feature. Excess water from sprinklers, rain, etc., goes into the ground and is used by the surrounding plants.

The recession has taken its toll on hardscape construction, along with landscaping business in general, but some see signs of a recovering housing market as a positive trend that could lead to increased customers and sales for landscapers.

“We’re still not seeing a significant turnaround in sales,” says Ed Fioroni, chairman of the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute, based in Dallas, Texas. “But, we are seeing a bit more confidence that the worst is behind us.”

J. Mark White, a landscape architect and contractor and owner of Arlington, Va.-based GardenWise, Inc., says that as the economy slowly recovers, people will continue to be frugal and cautious with their money, but more inclined to spend it on their yards in “spaces that homeowners can escape to and spend quality time with family and friends.”

Getting more for the money

Customers are looking to get more for their money by bundling projects together as a package, says Fioroni. That means one price and material that takes care of all their hardscape needs, from fireplace and patio to the driveway and pool area. This material must also blend well with the home’s existing color scheme.

“Many customers are looking to match their driveways and patios with their walls and veneer [outside the house],” says Fioroni. “They are looking to coordinate the vertical and horizontal.”

Fioroni says the concrete paver industry is seeing more focus on homeowners doing this color blending to their homes by replacing ordinary asphalt or concrete driveways and pool patios with concrete pavers, which are less expensive than real stone, but are more aesthetically pleasing than cheaper plain concrete or asphalt.

The patio will continue to be central to many hardscape projects; many customers are, in addition to asking to blend colors, requesting soothing and natural color schemes, such as those available in flagstone, which has many shades of blue and gray with underlying earth tones.

Flagstone can also be set in stone dust, a porous material that is less expensive to install and cuts down on water runoff and absorbs the rainwater, says White.

Green hardscapes

Despite the recession, consumers are still looking for “green” products, both in a natural-looking landscape and environmentally friendly one, as well.

You can’t get more natural than stonescaping, which continues to be a strong trend even as prices rise for these stones due to transportation costs.

White is seeing an increased demand for river rock. “River rock is very Zen,” says White. He likes to use black Mexican beach rock for his clients’ projects, which is flat, round and smooth to the touch. Delaware Valley river rock, which is gray with a blend of maroon and tan and hints of earth tones, is also popular with White’s clients, which he incorporates around the base of elevated water feature elements.

Stones for patios and walkways will remain popular in the upcoming year, but manufacturers that create faux products that look like the real thing, at a less expensive cost, are becoming more popular. Concrete pavers are also being mixed with natural stones to get the look at a fraction of the cost.

Local stones and rocks

The buy-local movement is strong for landscape materials, and expensive stones from other areas are often being passed over for more regionally sourced materials.

“If a homeowner is seeking natural materials that are beautiful, affordable and work well with their design, all I can say is buy local,” says White.

PHOTOS BY J.MARK WHITE
Black Mexican beach rock was used for thid project in Bethesda, Md.
Delaware Valley river rock surrounds a water feature in this Alexandria, Va., garden.

Local quarried stone is less expensive than many of the new materials coming on the market, White points out. In addition to saving money by eliminating the shipping costs of materials from out of state, buying materials from local quarries allows you “to support local businesses in your community during these tough economic times,” says White.

Not only should you buy local, but you should also buy early, suggests Victor Coppola, an environmental planner and scientist with Princeton, Conn.-based GreenWorks LLC, a green design/build firm specializing in landscape restoration, rehabilitation and enhancement.

Coppola points out that hardscape installers should consider ordering early to get the hot colors for 2010, such as blue or tan, at a better price, which they can pass on to their budget-conscious customers.

“A better way to look at your project needs is timing and planning … and get good prices by timing your hardscape buying in the off-season [November through February],” says Coppola.

Recycled materials

For those who want to go green without expensive materials, recycling has become a viable option.

Next to natural materials, there will also be increased demand for recycled materials in the upcoming year, predicts White. “This trend will explode in 2010,” he says.

White uses recycled concrete for paving systems and crushed, recycled stone and granite for patio surfaces. When the crushed stone is packed down, it remains porous and drains well.

“Porous paving systems have many benefits that include allowing water to infiltrate and seep into the soil below,” says White. Porous systems also prevent water runoff issues that can result in flooded yards, ruined landscapes, damage to a home’s exterior, flooding of a neighbor’s yard and run off into the street, which can add to an overburdened water/sewer system.

White also makes it a habit to recycle existing concrete in a homeowner’s yard when the materials are available. He incorporates larger pieces of old concrete into a design-an attractive alternative for homeowners looking for ways to recycle and spend less money.

“There are so many advantages to using recycled materials. I really hope this becomes more of a trend in 2010, because it’s a win-win situation,” says White.

“When I incorporate larger pieces of old concrete into a design, the cost of the purchase and delivery of new materials is eliminated, as is the cost of removing and disposing of old materials,” says White.

Another element White says he is incorporating into his projects more often is pavers with embedded glass, which are becoming “wildly popular with homeowners who are looking to enhance a hardscape design with a subtle hint of color,” he says.

Dave Brassard, owner and CEO of RE Marble and Granite of Temple, N.H., which primarily creates countertops and other indoor stone projects, says that both residential and commercial clients are asking his company for pieces from renovation projects to use in hardscape projects.

For example, several of his customers recently had the company create stepping stone pavers from various granite countertop pieces.

“We cut 20-by-20-inch squares, and to avoid them being too slippery, we used the back or rough side of the material facing up,” said Brassard. They treated the stone and sealed it to prevent winter damage.

“The finished products are really striking,” says Brassard. “We’re using post-industrial waste to create a beautiful and durable landscaping product,” he says. Which is not only good for the environment, but customer’s pocketbooks, as well. A combination that will be the enduring trend for 2010.

The author is a freelance writer from Keene, N.H.